Need a spot to cool off after EAA AirVenture? Head 220 nautical miles north from Oshkosh, Wisconsin, to Duluth, Minnesota, at the west end of Lake Superior. Prevailing easterly winds sweep across the giant lake, providing relief to overheated summer visitors. Walk along the beach in search of agates, watch huge container ships pass under one of the world’s largest aerial lift bridges, or, in case you didn’t see enough airplanes at Oshkosh, tour the Cirrus factory.
Sky Harbor Airport sits about half way down the long sand bar east of the harbor. Watch for birds and be prepared for a slightly rough runway. You can utilize a taxi and the trolley, or land at Richard I. Bong Airport just 3 nm southwest and rent a car. Sky Harbor Airport also has a seaplane base with two water runways.
From the airport, a two-mile hiking trail travels through the forest and along the lakeshore where you can look for Lake Superior agates, beautifully striped quartz in shades of red and brown. Or, enjoy Duluth skyline views from the Park Point Recreation Area just northwest of the airport. Across the bridge in Canal Park, stop by the Lake Superior Maritime Visitor Center. A free cell phone tour guides you past the shipping canal full of giant lake carriers, an icebreaker boat display, three lighthouses, and the aerial lift bridge, which lifts on the hour and half hour for visitors in summer, plus on demand for ships (a website link provides a schedule of ships). One of the largest and fastest in the world, the bridge lifts up 120 feet in only three minutes. Hop aboard the S.S. William A. Irvin for an up-close look at the proud flagship of U.S. Steel’s Great Lakes Fleet, now a museum, which holds an impressive 2,000-horsepower steam turbine engine and set a record (that still stands) by unloading 13,856 tons of ore in less than three hours.
See Duluth from the water via a sightseeing or dinner cruise aboard a Vista Fleet luxury yacht. In town, tour Glensheen, the 39-room estate of mining magnate Chester Congdon. Ready for more aviation? The Cirrus manufacturing plant is open for tours at 1 p.m. each Wednesday (reserve ahead). On the one-hour tour you’ll see the complete build of the aircraft, including fuselage and wing bonding and window installations, all three piston lines, and the new Vision jet. To see some of the natural world’s greatest aviators, head to the Hawk Ridge Nature Reserve. In mid-August through November, migrating raptors reluctant to cross Lake Superior often gather here. You may see large groups of merlins, eagles, and hawks, including the rare gyrfalcon.
Summers are busy, so reserve accommodations ahead. For a quiet beach getaway, stay at the three-bedroom Cottage on the Point, between Canal Park and Sky Harbor Airport. You’ll have four kayaks, a canoe, fully equipped kitchen, and fireplace at your disposal. The Suites Hotel, in Canal Park, also has fully equipped kitchens plus complimentary breakfast. Recommended options include a harbor view, fireplace, or whirlpool.
Dining options are many and varied, but you can always count on Canal Park’s Amazing Grace Bakery and Café for good soups, huge and delicious sandwiches, and fresh pastries and coffee. Canal Park Brewing Company uses its exceptional craft brews in its cooking—think pretzels with IPA beer mustard, or beer-can chicken marinated in their nut brown ale. Next to the aerial bridge, Grandma’s Saloon and Grill serves authentic local cuisine like walleye, wild rice, and local mushrooms and vegetables.